I recently had the opportunity to interview Devis Mulunda, Product Manager – Vive Wireless, Lutron Electronics about plug load control for an article I’m writing for the October issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Transcript follows.
DiLouie: What is plug load control, and what benefits are derived from it? Why should electrical distributors care about or invest in promoting this category?
Mulunda: A plug load control is a device that allows a receptacle to be turned on or off either automatically or manually. Plug load controls are often part of a connected building system that employs inputs from devices such as sensors, keypads, or other controllers.
In commercial buildings such as offices, classrooms, retail stores, and hospitality spaces, plug load control is typically used as part of an effective, code-compliant strategy for achieving energy-use goals by ensuring devices such as small appliances, desk lamps, and monitors are turned off when the space is vacant.
State and local energy codes are more frequently requiring plug load control as part of energy saving strategies. Contractors will count on their distributors and lighting manufacturers to guide them to the solutions that most easily support code requirements.
Residentially, plug load controls are most commonly used on exterior fixtures as a convenient means of turning seasonal and other landscaping lighting on and off at appropriate times, and as an energy-saving strategy.
DiLouie: What are the options for controlling plug loads?
Mulunda: Residential and commercial strategies for plug load control are different. The commercial solutions are driven primarily by state and local energy code requirements.
Commercially, a variety of spaces are already required to meet the automatic lighting shutoff provisions in many energy codes. A Lutron Vive Wireless Receptacle, for example, works with the same occupancy sensors and switches that control the lighting. These receptacles can work as a stand-alone solution, or they can be used in conjunction with a smart hub for app and dashboard capabilities.
Residentially, smart plug load controllers, such as the Lutron Caséta Outdoor Smart Plug, simply plug into a standard outlet, and then allow the user to plug a light source or small motor into that smart plug. That appliance can now be controlled by a Pico control, the Lutron App, or a smart home assistant. Smart plug control is especially useful for exterior, seasonal lighting, landscape lighting, or appliances like outdoor heaters or irrigation systems.
DiLouie: What are the advantages of controlling plug loads with a lighting control system?
Mulunda: In many commercial applications plug control allows the facilities team to take advantage of existing devices such as occupancy sensors that are used to meet code and save energy. As part of a smart lighting control system, plug loads can be added to building management dashboards that display status and report energy use, and plug load data can be shared with other building systems – same sensors, same control, same programming.
In the home, plug load control offers set-it-and-forget-it convenience: Seasonal lights, sprinkler systems, and other plug-in landscape lighting can be programmed to a schedule that beautifies the home while reducing energy waste. Installation is as simple as plugging the smart device into the appropriate wall outlet (the Lutron Caséta Outdoor Smart Plug must be plugged into a GFCI protected outlet).
DiLouie: What are strategies for implementing plug load control via a lighting control system?
Mulunda: Plug load strategy is primarily driven by state and local energy codes, many of which increasingly require up to 50% of outlets in certain areas to be controlled. Contractors and facility managers will want to ensure a balance between efficiency and convenience, installing well-marked, controllable receptacles in locations that are reserved for loads like task lighting, small appliances, and small electronics such as heaters and monitors that are not designed for 24/7 use.
In the home, plug load controls are most often used for convenience and energy saving to automatically switch exterior string lights, seasonal lights, and small motors.
DiLouie: What are the advantages of either wiring or going wireless with communication?
Mulunda: Wireless solutions are easier to install, require less material, and typically don’t require opening up walls or disrupting space occupants. This makes wireless solutions suitable for both existing building retrofits and new construction, but especially advantageous in existing buildings that may not have the infrastructure in place to accommodate a wired approach.
Considering the relative age of commercial buildings – The US Energy Information Administration’s 2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey reports that 54% of U.S. commercial buildings were built between 1960 and 1999 – there is tremendous opportunity for energy-saving upgrades.
Demand for renovations, coupled with the fact that many wireless solutions can be completed with off-the-shelf, in-stock materials, represents a significant opportunity for electrical distributors and their contractors who can win more jobs and then get them done faster with wireless.
DiLouie: Are there any special “bells and whistles” distributors should be aware of and propose for certain applications?
Mulunda: Plug loads that are integrated into a comprehensive, smart lighting control solution can be part of the building’s overall energy-saving strategy. Like all other loads associated with the system, certain smart receptacles can be monitored and adjusted via a convenient app, and energy use can be reported on the same building dashboard.
In the home, smart plugs not only offer energy savings and convenience, but they can work with a variety of smart assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and more.